For conservation of Asiatic Lions in the state, the Gujarat government on Tuesday announced a Rs 351-crore package, including a range of new initiatives like building a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in Sasan-Gir and forming a special cadre of 120 veterinary doctors.
The announcement comes in the wake of the death of 27 lions in and around Gir Wildlife Sanctuary during the last two months, a majority of them were infected by canine distemper virus (CDV).
The decision was taken at a meeting of State Board of Wildlife (SBWL), chaired by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Tuesday. The meeting was also attended by Chief Secretary J N Singh and top officials of Department of Forest and Environment, like Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest & Head of the Forest Force G K Sinha.
“Elaborate discussion was held at the SBWL meeting on the recent deaths of lions by CDV after which an in-principle decision was taken to sanction Rs 351 crore for various lion conservation measures in the next five years,” Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told mediapersons here after the meeting.
“One of the major decisions is to build a modern hospital for lions at the cost of Rs 100 crore,” the forest minister said, adding that it will have all modern facilities to deal with any situation. To take special care of the lions and other animals in the state, a special cadre of 120 expert veterinarians will also be formed.
After the forensic reports confirmed the presence of CDV in most of the lions that died between September 12 and 29 in Gir, the government had specially imported vaccines from the United States and had sought help of national and international wildlife experts.
Other measures include deployment of drones to keep a watch on lions’ movements, building eight new rescue centres at the cost of Rs 80 crore, deployment of 33 Rapid Response Teams in the forest and recruitment of 100 ‘trackers’ to keep an eye on lions, said Vasava, adding that remuneration of lion trackers will also be increased.
Additional Chief Secretary Gupta said that the CCTV surveillance is being planned at all the 24 entry and exit points of the sanctuary.
“To increase the prey base for lions, we will open four new breeding centres for these animals (such as nilgai and antelopes). We have also planned to create vast grasslands inside the sanctuary for lions,” said Vasava.
He added that a dedicated ambulance service for lions and a 24-hour helpline, for getting vital information from public about lions, will also be launched soon.
To decrease load of tourists in Sasan-Gir region, Vasava said that Gujarat will get five new safari parks, including a lion safari park near Gandhinagar. Two such lion safaris are already there in Ambardi and Dhari of Saurashtra. Four more safaris will be set up in the state. “Apart from the lion safari park, a tiger safari park would come up near Kevadiya in Narmada district. We have also planned leopard safari parks in Bhavnagar, Surat and Dang districts,” Vasava said.
The SBWL has also decided to develop breeding centres for endangered species of birds like the Great Indian Bustard, Lesser Forican and Vulture.
At the meeting, several other decisions were also taken on various projects of mining and road construction and the same were sent to National Board for Wildlife for its approval.